Amongst his peers in the world of horror antagonists, Leatherface might just be the most terrifying. I mean, yeah, Jason Voorhees is basically an unstoppable killing machine, Freddie Krueger is a child killer turned metaphysical mass murderer, and Michael Myers is the living embodiment of pure evil. They're objectively horrifying in their own ways, and the mythos behind them has created this bigger than life aura around each.
Leatherface? He comes from a very human place, rooted in a world that could absolutely be our own, with a story that, though extreme, is actually plausible. There really could be a family of reclusive cannibals tucked away in the sparsely populated interior of Texas somewhere. I'm a native Texan, and I've spent plenty of time driving its dusty backroads. There are hundreds of old cow or rail towns that have less than a dozen people living in them, if any...that you'd know of.
Leatherface did unthinkable things to innocent people. He took joy in watching said people suffer, and man -- if you tried to escape. Holy crap. At face value (heh, because he wore faces), Leatherface is an evil, homicidal maniac with absolutely no discernable redeeming qualities.
So far as I'm concerned, however, Leatherface is a pretty good guy. A model of family values, hard working, and even kind. Let me explain.
If you break down the essential elements of what make Leatherface who he is, you quickly realize it's all about perspective. I mean, to be fair, if it's you he's trying to chainsaw to death, the lens by which a dude wearing people's face skin sees the world is immaterial, but let's pretend we're simple observers. What do we learn from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
Leatherface is not bright. In fact, it's pretty clear that the Sawyer clan see him as the bottom of the barrel intellectually amongst their ranks, which is saying a lot as they're not exactly brilliant. So, Leatherface is more than kinda slow, which means his deductive skills probably aren't considerably sharp. His mind is a spoon, rather than a knife. Probably a wooden one. He can't really speak, and has difficulty dealing with and expressing emotions. He still valiantly carries on in spite of these hardships, however.
When Sally and the good time gang in the van end up essentially breaking into the Sawyer home, Leatherface isn't pissed off, he's freakin' scared. From his perspective, there is a threat in his house, and to his family. Just like you or I might arm ourselves if we heard someone breaking into our own homes, Leatherface does the only logical thing he knows.
Dude picks up a chainsaw.
Outside of that however, you probably think you'd be able to catch me on the whole slow, painful torture before murder thing, or putting people in a deep freezer alive. There doesn't appear to be any legitimate way to skirt the fact that Leatherface seems to take great pleasure in some of his kills. Again, it's about perspective.
Leatherface lives amongst a bunch of lunatics, and they eat people. These are folks that, while disturbed, for the most part appear to be pretty cognizant of the choices they're making when you compare them to Leatherface. Drayton Sawyer, the father of the clan, has scraped together a living feeding human meat to folks that stop at his gas station. This, to Leatherface, is just how things are. He lives with schizophrenics, homicidal maniacs, and the only time he appears to get any positive feedback is when he's putting food on the table.
People are food.
He's taking care of his family, and when said family are lunatics that laugh at the pain they're causing the unsuspecting victims that put money in their pockets and a meal in their bellies, well -- children emulate the folks that raise them. Leatherface is basically a developmentally challenged child, stuck in a pants-shittingly gigantic, scary man's body. So, if Leatherface puts on a little dinner theater, and howls at the screaming girl tied to the human hand-chair, and does weird stuff to her head while he wears his pretty lady face-skin mask, it's just a fella trying to get a little positive reinforcement from the only people who've ever taken care of him. Also, he's just playing with his food.
We throw mashed potatoes, Leatherface does weird face mooshes, hoots at his soon-to-be dinner like a monkey, and feeds its blood to his ailing grandpa. Speaking of that, about the whole being a caring person thing...
Leatherface happily takes care of his wheelchair-bound grandfather. That's noble. Sure, doing so entails human blood feedings, and patiently trying to help gramps brain dinner with a hammer, but it clearly shows the guy values family, and respects the elderly. If not for the completely twisted way Leatherface perceives normalcy in the world, he'd be a pretty decent person.
By horror baddie standards, he's a saint. Leatherface was never a child murderer, he didn't kill his mother and sister in a psychotic rage as a kid, and he didn't come back from the dead to ruin perfectly good sexin' sessions of horny teenagers because a few jerks at a summer camp let him drown.
That last one was pretty awful though. Maybe Jason isn't so bad either? Another time, another article.
What I'm saying is, Leatherface is a product of his environment. With all of those qualifiers in place, and assuming you aren't the one he's trying to gut and make butt-meat steaks out of, it might be easier to see Leatherface in a more positive light.
Just, you know, you'd still never want to share a carpool with him.